Last updated: 12/23/09

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WALC is an independent non-profit 501(c) 3 organization.

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Who We Are

The Wilderness Arts and Literacy Collaborative (WALC) is an academic program that utilizes environmental education as the central, unifying theme with which we integrate science, English, social studies, art, technology, and math.

Field experiences such as hiking, camping, habitat restoration, and recycling are woven together with classroom coursework and provide the experiential foundation for a challenging academic curriculum.

Outdoor learning and classroom learning complement and build upon one another to create a more intercon- nected educational experience for students.


WALC is a teacher initiated non-profit organization, ongoing at Balboa and Downtown Continuation high schools, both in San Francisco.

Both Balboa and Downtown serve predominantly low-income and at-risk students of color.

More than 70% of Balboa and Downtown students are classified as Educationally Disadvantaged Youth (EDY) based on qualification for free or reduced lunch, receipt of public assistance, residence in public housing, or standardized test scores below the 40th percentile. As such, WALC’s primary objective is to offer our particular students an alternative way to learn in order to facilitate their accomplishment of greater academic and personal success.

Furthermore, while our students face some of the city’s most acute environmental problems in neighborhoods like Bayview-Hunter’s Point, Sunnydale, and Midway Village, the vast majority has not had the opportunity to experience the wonders of our natural environment. It is thus an additional objective to immerse our students in wilderness experiences that can stimulate, motivate, inspire, and teach them.

WALC operates within the existing structure of each school.
Balboa is currently organized into thematic academic pathways for all juniors and seniors. WALC is one of the pathways students can choose, in which they are enrolled from the beginning of 11th grade to the end of 12th grade.

Downtown is structured into several self-contained, interdisciplinary “project teams” which all students choose from to enroll in each semester. WALC is one such project, which students can participate in anywhere from one to four semesters.

Existing within the school day (aside from weekend camping trips) allows WALC to serve our diverse, at-risk target population and allows any interested student therein access to our program. Independent non-profit status enables us to secure grant money to fund the activities our schools cannot afford, making WALC free for students. About 35 juniors and 35 seniors participate in WALC each year at Balboa, and 40 students per semester join WALC at Downtown.

WALC Teachers

Diana D. Thériault
Environmental Science Teacher

Diana, who has a degree in Entomology from U.C. Berkeley, has taught science at Balboa High School for six years, incorporating her field research experience into the regular biology curriculum. Diana joined WALC midway through the 1998-99 school year. In the summer of 1999, Diana participated in the Headlands Institute EECP training and followed up with Wilderness First Aid certification the following summer. For the past three years, Diana has been an IISME Fellow at Stanford University and SRI International. She has two sons, one of whom graduated as a WALC student from Balboa. Diana will be stepping aside as WALC Balboa's science teacher, but will remain an integral part of WALC as a member of our Board of Directors.

Catherine Salvin
Social Studies, Science, English Teacher / Editor

Catherine, having taught for fourteen years and counting at Downtown High, is the school's senior-most teacher. She is a certified environmental educator, trained by the Headlands Institute EECP and the Yosemite Institute, as well as being certified in Wilderness First Aid. She has been Downtown WALC's Project Facilitator since its inception and has served as WALC's citywide Program Director and Publications Editor from 2000 until present. She and her fellow teacher Sherry Bass were honored with the San Francisco Education Fund Golden Apple Award in 2000. Recently, she and Sherry were featured in the March 2007 issue of the California Educator Magazine.
Kenneth M. Gonzalez
English Teacher

Ken has been teaching for eleven years at Balboa High School, serving for the past six years as the English Department Chair. He co-founded WALC in the spring of 1998, also participating in EECP that summer and continuing the program in the summer of 1999 at the Yosemite Institute. He is a Bay Area Writing Project Teacher Consultant, and has presented WALC’s structure and curriculum to teachers from throughout the Bay Area at BAWP’s Saturday Seminar Series. Ken was honored with a KTVU Family 2 Family and Sylvan Learning Center Best Educator Award for 2004.

Conrad J. Benedicto
Social Studies Teacher/Executive Director

Conrad has taught for fourteen years at Balboa High School. After three years as the coordinator of the Unity Club, Conrad co-founded WALC in the spring of 1998.

That summer, he participated in the Headlands Institute Environmental Educators Certificate Program (EECP), continuing the program in the summer of 1999 at the Yosemite Institute, and earning Wilderness First Aid Certification in the summer of 2000.

He has been WALC's Executive Director since 2001. In 2003, Conrad was honored as a Community Environmental Hero by the Crissy Field Center.

Sherry Bass
Art and Math Teacher/Publications Coordinator
Sherry has been teaching in the San Francisco Unified School District for more than twenty years, including as one of Conrad Benedicto's teachers at Woodrow Wilson High School in the late 1980's. For the last eleven years, Sherry has taught at Downtown High. She has participated in habitat restoration and ethno-botany workshops and studied earth-based indigenous arts such as basket weaving and pottery. Sherry was a co-recipient of the 2000 Golden Apple Award given by the San Francisco Education Fund. She also has years of experience as a graphic artist and is a highly trained in multiple computer programs. Sherry serves as the WALC's citywide Publications Coordinator, overseeing, designing, and/or laying out quarterly magazines and the annual anthology.
Billy Caudy
Physics Teacher
Billy received his dual degree in Physics Math and Classics from the University of Iowa in 2003. Afterward, while working at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, certain fundamental questions about the way science is conducted began to develop in Billy¹s thinking. He received a Masters in Sub Atomic Physics from San Francisco State University in 2007. While serving as a GK12 Fellow he was recruited as a teacher in waiting by the departing Advanced Placement Physics instructor at Balboa High School in 2006, and he saw this as an opportunity to apply the knowledge he had gained in a more fulfilling manner. He will be entering his third year of teaching in the Fall of 2008, as the new WALC science teacher. Photo of WALC teacher Bill Caudy

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